PREFACE
This is the 32nd statewide survey completed under the auspices of Sam Houston State University’s Criminal Justice Center.  The Criminal Justice Center was established by the Texas Legislature in 1963 when it passed House Resolution 469.  This resolution called for Sam Houston State University to work in collaboration with the Texas Department of Corrections to establish a program of excellence with four objectives:
 
•  establish degree programs for individuals seeking careers in criminal 
   justice;

•  provide continuing education programs for professionals already
   employed in the field of criminal justice;

•  conduct research on the problems of crime and the administration of 
   justice; and

•  provide technical assistance to criminal justice agencies.


This survey and all activities conducted under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Center’s Survey Research Program help to fulfill the third of these objectives by reporting information on public opinions regarding criminal justice and related issues.  The first Texas Crime Poll was completed in 1977 and has been repeated annually since that date.  The general purpose of these surveys is to provide legislators, public officials, and Texas residents with a reliable source of information about citizens’ opinions and attitudes concerning crime and criminal justice related topics.

The Survey Research Program’s staff appreciates the continued support from Dean Richard Ward and Acting Dean Margaret Farnworth.  The staff would also like to thank Ms. Kay Billingsley for her editorial contribution to the project.  All opinions, interpretations, and any errors included in this report are the sole responsibility of the authors.

SECTION 1: THE 1999 SURVEY AND CHARACTERISTICS OF 
THE SAMPLES
The 1999 Texas Crime Poll involved a statewide telephone survey designed and commissioned by the Criminal Justice Center’s Survey Research Program at Sam Houston State University.  In that survey, conducted by Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) on behalf of Sam Houston State University in July and August of 1999, a total of 607 Texans were queried about their attitudes toward a wide variety of crime and criminal justice issues.  The questionnaire used can be viewed at 1999 SURVEY INSTRUMENT and a technical report showing the response rates and other pertinent information can be viewed at 1999 TECHNICAL REPORT.

All of the issues addressed this year were also included in the Spring 1979 Texas Crime Poll which was prepared by Raymond H.C. Teske and Charles R. Jeffords.  Copies of the previous report may be obtained by contacting the Survey Research Program at the above mentioned addresses.  Throughout this report, Texans’ responses to the questions in this year’s survey will be reported along with a discussion of some of the more substantive findings regarding the differences between the attitudes and experiences reported in 1979. It is important to note, however, that the data in this year’s survey were collected through the use of telephone interviews while the 1979 data were collected through a a “postal survey."  The 1979 survey also included many more items than those used in 1999, and the order in which the issues were presented to the respondents was not perfectly replicated. Appropriate consideration of these issues should be taken into account when looking at differences from one year to the other.

Issues included in the surveys focus on the public's:

• fear of crime;
• perceptions of police use of force;
• evaluations of the courts' sentencing practices;
• support for the use of the death penalty;
• willingness to consider probation for particular offenses;
• perceptions about the purpose of prisons;
• openness to the use of parole;
• perceptions about the purpose of the criminal and juvenile justice systems; 
  and 
• willingness to consider tax increases for criminal justice related services.
Table 1 provides comparative descriptive information about the respondents from the 1979 and 1999 surveys. In addition to the three demographic categories, the 1999 survey included questions about the respondent's age, political party affiliation, community size, religious preference, and household income. This report does not discuss how sub-groups perceive substantive issues due to limitations in the availability of similar data for the 1979 sample. Those interested in examining how these sub-groups perceive issues included in this year's survey may do so by downloading a copy of the 1999 data set which is located at Texas Crime Poll On-Line.

 
Table 1 
Number and Percent of Respondents by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Education Level: 1979 and 1999
 
1979
   
1999
N
% of Total
 
N
% of Total
Gender
     Male
822
54
269
44
     Female
708
46
338
56
Race/Ethnicity
     White
1212
79
418
69
     Black/African American
101
7
57
9
     Hispanic
197
13
94
16
     Other
20
1
28
5
Education Level
     Less than high school
327
21
61
10
     High school graduate
428
28
148
24
     Some college
430
28
205
34
     College graduate
316
21
152
25
     Other
29
2
41
7

 
The samples included in 1979 and 1999 show that there are considerable differences in the proportion of males and females. Both years failed to yield samples with proportionate representation of men who constituted approximately 49% of the population and women who constituted approximately 51% of the population.  The 1979 sample was disproportionately male with 54% of its respondents falling into this group and the 1999 sample is disproportionately female with women composing 56% of the sample. Accordingly, any discussion of differences in the public's perceptions across these two periods of time must be sensitive to the gender compositions represented.

The majority of both samples reported being White with the 1999 survey including proportionately more non-whites than the 1979 survey. In 1999, 16% reported being Hispanic, 9% Black/African-American, and 5% recorded as Other.  Compared with census data, both samples underrepresented all of the minority ethnic populations in Texas.  The most current census estimates show that in 1999 approximately 56% of Texans are White, 29% Hispanic, 12% Black/African-American, and 3% fall into Other racial/ethnic categories.  Accordingly, findings concerning differences across ethnic subgroups will not be reported in this analysis.

Respondents to the 1999 survey had considerably higher levels of educationthan the 1979 respondents. While two-thirds of the 1999 sample (66%) reported having had some college, almost one-half of the 1979 sample (49%) had only a high school degree or less.  This difference also needs to be taken into consideration when reviewing changes from year to year.


 
SECTION 2: FEAR OF CRIME
In both years, the respondents were asked whether or not there was any area within a mile of their homes where they would be afraid to walk alone at night.  A similar question was asked about whether or not there was any area within one block of their homes where they would be afraid to walk alone at night. The wording of these questions reflects early attempts to measure "fear of crime" and, in spite of the use of considerably more sophisticated measures in recent surveys, responses to these questions continue to represent a valid measure of people's "fear of crime."  The responses to these items for both 1979 and 1999 are reported in Table 2.

 
Table 2 
Fear of walking near home at night: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: Is there any area within one mile of your home where you would be afraid to walk alone at night? and Would you be afraid to walk alone within one block of your home at night?)
Afraid to walk alone at night:
1979
1999
     within one mile of home
 %
%
          Yes
54
31
          No
43
67
          Don't Know/No Response
  3
  2
     within one block of home  
          Yes
23
19
          No
74
80
          Don't Know/No Response
  3
 
  1

 
These figures show that Texans are considerably less afraid of crime today than they were in 1979.  Over one-half of the 1979 respondents reported that they would be concerned walking alone at night within one mile of their homes and another 23% reported being afraid to walk alone at night within one block of their homes. In 1999 less than one-third of the respondents reported being afraid to walk alone within one mile of their homes (31%) and 80% reported having no fear of walking alone at night within one block of their homes.  In light of the earlier observation that the 1999 sample is disproportionately female, this finding is even more significant because research consistently demonstrates that women are more likely than men to express fear of crime.

 
SECTION 3: PERCEPTIONS OF POLICE USE OF FORCE

How "tolerant" or "concerned" the public is about the use of force by police officers has always been a topic of considerable interest.  In the 1979 survey, there were a series of questions designed to identify how "constrained" police policies should be concerning the use of deadly force.  These questions were followed up with a series of questions designed to measure whether or not citizens thought the police were using appropriate levels of force in their interactions with the community, in general as well as in their interactions with criminals, in particular.  These questions were repeated in the 1999 survey, and the results for each year are presented in Tables 3.1 and 3.2.

 
 

Table 3.1 
Perceptions of when deadly force is allowable: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: As a policy should police be allowed to use deadly force.  .  . insert descriptions as follows . . .?)
Percent responding "yes"
1979
1999
     to prevent
%
%
          minor crimes against property
  3
16
          major crimes against property
34
54
          crimes of violence
69
90
     to stop someone running from
          minor property crime
  6
17
          major property crime
41
54
          violent crime
74
85
          traffic violation
  6
15
     to protect themselves from serious injury or death
92
96
Table 3.1 shows that Texans today are considerably more tolerant of the use of deadly force by the police than they were in 1979.  More specifically, people today seemed to be much more willing to permit police to use deadly force to prevent crime .  Fifty-four percent reported that police policies should allow police to use deadly force to prevent major crimes against property. Ninety percent support policies that would allow police to use deadly force to prevent crimes of violence. In 1999, Texans were also more supportive of the use of deadly force by the police to stop someone running from crimes or to protect themselves; however, the differences between 1979 and 1999 are not as marked in these situations as they are in the "crime prevention" situations.

 
Table 3.2 
Public Opinions about Excessive Use of Force by Police: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: In general, do you believe that the police in Texas use too much force in dealing with criminals? and In general do you believe that the police in Texas use too much force in dealing with citizens?)
 Do police use too much force in dealing with: 
1979
 
1999
     criminals?
%
%
          Yes
14
19
          No
81
69
         Don't Know/No Response
5
12
     citizens?
          Yes
36
25
          No
58
67
          Don't Know/No Response
6
8

 
When asked about their perceptions of whether or not law enforcement officers were using appropriate levels of force in their interactions with criminals and citizens in general, respondents in the 1999 sample were slightly more likely than the 1979 sample to express concerns about the levels of force used when dealing with criminals.  The 1999 respondents were considerably more likely than the 1979 respondents to report that they "don't know" whether or not police use too much force when dealing with criminals.  Almost one-fifth of the 1999 sample (19%) stated that they believe the police use too much force in dealing with criminals compared to only 14% of the 1979 sample. In contrast, the 1999 sample seems to be less concerned about police use of force in dealing with citizens than were the respondents to the 1979 survey.  Over one-third (36%) of the 1979 sample reported concerns in this area compared to only a quarter (25%) of the 1999 sample.

 
SECTION 4: EVALUATION OF COURT SENTENCING PRACTICES AND ATTITUDES ABOUT THE USE OF THE DEATH PENATLY
There were a series of questions included on both year's surveys which were designed to measure Texans' attitudes about the court system's sentencing practices.  These questions included an item asking citizens to evaluate the court's sentencing practices as well as items focusing on whether or not jurors ought to be informed of the parole eligibility dates for offenders while they are deliberating on their sentencing recommendations. 

The death penalty is also related to the sentencing functions of the Texas criminal court system.  In both 1979 and 1999, Texans' attitudes about the death penalty were measured by ascertaining whether or not they would support the use of the death penalty for a variety of different types of crimes.  While the US Supreme Court effectively restricted the use of the death penalty to crimes involving homicide in 1977, it is instructive to examine how Texans' support for its use in non-homicide cases has changed over the past 20 years.


 

Table 4.1 
Texans' Evaluation of Court Sentencing Practices: 1979 and 1999
 (Question wording: In general, when dealing with convicted criminals, do you feel the courts are too easy, doing a good job, or being too harsh?)
Percent responding:
1979
1999
     Doing a good job
22
26
     Too easy
71
60
     Too harsh
2
4
     Don't Know/No Response
5
9

 
 
Figures reported in Table 4.1 show that Texans were slightly less likely to see the courts as being "too easy" today than they were in 1979.  Sixty percent of the 1999 sample characterized the court's sentencing practices as "too easy" compared with 71% doing so in 1979.  Relatively few of the respondents in either year perceived the courts as being "too harsh" and almost the same proportions each year evaluated the courts as "doing a good job."

 
 

Table 4.2 
Texans' Attitudes About Whether or not Jurors Should Be Informed of Parole Eligibility Dates at Time of Sentencing: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: Before sentencing a defendant, should a jury be informed about the parole laws and how soon the defendant may be eligible for parole if he/she is sent to prison? In the 1999 survey, respondents who said "yes" were also asked, Do you think juries in capital murder trials should be told about the parole laws as they apply to people sentenced to "capital life?")
Percent responding:
1979
1999
     Yes (*These respondents were asked "capital life"
            follow-up; 1999 sample only)
89
94
     No
10
5
     Don't Know/No Response
1
1
*Should jurors be told about parole eligibility for "capital life?"
     Yes
N/A
93
     No
N/A
5
     Don't Know/No Response
N/A
2

 
In both 1979 and 1999, the great majority of Texans supported the proposition that  during their sentencing deliberations, jurors should be informed of the parole eligibility dates for convicted offenders. The motivations behind these sentiments in recent years are probably characterized by the public's general sense that offenders should be required to serve their entire sentences without any parole consideration being an option (see Table 6.2 below).

In recent years, the practice of informing jurors of parole eligibility dates has become common throughout Texas in all cases except those involving deliberations by jurors in capital punishment cases. In capital cases the defense has been prohibited from informing capital jurors that statutory law in Texas requires any person convicted of capital murder to serve an absolute minimum of 40 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole consideration. In the 76th Legislative Session (1999), Texas legislators passed into law a bill that makes such information available to capital jurors during sentencing deliberations. To ascertain whether or not the public approved of this law, a follow-up question to the more general one was asked in the 1999 survey.  Of those respondents to the 1999 survey who answered "yes" to the first general question about informing jurors of parole eligibility, an overwhelming 93% reported that they thought jurors should be informed of the parole eligibility dates for persons sentenced to "capital life."  Texans' attitudes about the appropriateness of the death penalty as a sentencing option are presented in Tables 4.3.


 

Table 4.3 
Percent of Respondents Supporting the Death Penalty for Different Crimes: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: Are you in favor of the death penalty for any of the following crimes?)
 Percent responding:
1979
 
1999
Murder
77
80
Rape
39
46
Treason
25
36
Armed robbery
14
17
Arson
  9
17
Kidnapping
31
31
Other
  7
19
% in favor of death penalty for at least one of the above crimes
79
80

 
The figures in Table 4.3 show that the overall number of people favoring the use of the death penalty as a sentencing option has retained a consistent level of support, with about 80% of the respondents to each year's survey supporting its use for some crimes. The figures also show Texans to be somewhat more tolerant of its use today than they were in 1979.  Only two years prior to the first survey, the US Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was only constitutionally acceptable in cases involving murder (see Coker v. Georgia, 1977). Up until that time, Texas was among several jurisdictions that allowed for the use of this punishment in several non-homicide cases. As the results of the 1979 survey show, some Texan's continued to hold on to those beliefs, especially in cases involving rape (39%) or kidnapping (31%).  When asked the same question in 1999, there was an increase in the proportion of people supporting its use in all of the different crime categories, with the exception of kidnapping where the figures were the same from one year to the next.  The most significant change was in the increased number of people who are willing to accept the use of capital punishment for the crime category reported in Table 4.3 as "other."  In 1979, only 7% of the sample were listed in this category and a note to one of the tables included in the report identifies "child abuse" and "terrorism" as the most common crimes falling into this category.  In 1999, there were considerably more respondents falling into this category (19%). This shows a general tendency for today's Texans to be more tolerant of the use of capital punishment. As with the earlier survey, the most common "other" crime category mentioned in 1999 as appropriate for capital punishment involved crimes against children including "child molestation" which was mentioned by 7.6% of those favoring its use in "other" crimes and 3.8% supporting its use in cases involving "child abuse."  Terrorism was not mentioned by any of the 1999 sample.

 
SECTION 5: THE PUBLIC'S OPENNESS TO PROBATION FOR DIFFERENT OFFENSES
When asked whether or not they would support the use of probation instead of prison for different crimes, Texans were considerably more open to probation in 1999 than they were in 1979. Table 5 shows the results of a question that asked about Texan's support for probation as an option in cases involving 14 different crimes ranging in seriousness from murder and rape to shoplifting.  In 1999, there was an increase in the proportion of people supporting the use of probation as an option in each of the categories with the exception of "driving while intoxicated."  Also, there were fewer people in the 1999 survey who opposed the use of probation as a sanctioning option in any of the crime categories included in the survey.  The trend shows the most marked increases in the community's acceptance of probation as a sentencing alternative in cases involving "burglary," "robbery," "theft," and the "use of drugs other than marijuana."

 
Table 5 
Probation Consideration by Crime Types: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: People are sometimes allowed to serve their prison sentences by staying in their own communities instead of actually going to prison.  If the person breaks the rules of this “probation” he may then have to serve the sentence in prison.  Do you think that a person convicted of the following crimes should be considered for probation?)
Percent responding "yes" to the following crimes:
1979
 
1999
Aggravated assault
16
 
 30
Arson
11
 
 27
Auto theft
39
 
 58
Burglary
20
 
 44
Driving while intoxicated
60
 
 41
Murder
5
 
 7
Rape
6
 
 8
Robbery
9
 
 32
Sale of illegal drugs other than marijuana
12
 
 25
Sale of marijuana
32
 
 39
Shoplifting
65
 
 72
Theft
32
 
 57
Use of illegal drugs other than marijuana
24
 
 48
Use of marijuana
53
 
 59
Not in favor of probation for any of above
18
 
13

 
SECTION 6: PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF THE PURPOSE OF PRISONS AND THE USE OF PAROLE
In addition to asking questions about their openness to probation as an alternative sanction, both samples were asked questions designed to determine what Texans consider as important functions of the prison system. They were also asked whether or not they support the use of "early release from prison" depending on an inmate's behavior. The results of these questions for each year are reported in Tables 6.1 and 6.2.

 
Table 6.1 
Purpose of Texas Prisons: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: Prisons may serve a number of different functions.  How important of a function should each of the following be for Texas prisons? Order of options was randomized in the 1999 survey.)
Percent responding:
1979
 
1999
Rehabilitation
     very important
84
72
     somewhat important
11
22
     not important
2
4
     no response
3
2
Punishment      
     very important
70
 
 82
     somewhat important
22
 
 15
     not important
4
 
 2
     no response
4
 
 3
Deterrence      
     very important
77
 
 71
     somewhat important
15
 
 20
     not important
4
 
 5
     no response
4
 
 3
Incapacitation      
     very important
43
 
 68
     somewhat important
37
 
 24
     not important
15
 
 4
     no response
5
 
3

 
The figures in Table 6.1 show that in both years a large proportion of Texans identified "punishment" as a "very important" purpose for prisons to serve. There were, however, considerably more people who identified "punishment" as a "very important" purpose for prisons to serve today (82%) than there were in 1979 (70%).  It is also noteworthy that considerably fewer people valued "rehabilitation" as a "very important" purpose for prisons in 1999 (72%) than in 1979 (84%). By far, the most significantshift in public attitudes, however, is that in 1999 considerably more Texans valued "incapacitation" as an important function for prisons than they did in 1979.  In the earlier study, only 43% of the sample considered "incapacitation" as "very important" compared to 68% of the 1999 sample.

 
Table 6.2 
Public Support for Parole: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: In regards to an inmate’s release from prison, should he or she serve the full sentence or be released early depending on his or her behavior in prison?)
Percent responding:
1979
 
1999
        serve full sentence
52
71
        be released early . . .
46
21

 
The figures in Table 6.2 show a consistent pattern with the responses to the earlier questions.  Texans in 1999 were considerably less supportive of the use of parole or "early release from prison." Almost one-half (46%) of the 1979 sample was willing to consider allowing an inmate to earn early release from prison through his or her good behavior.  Only one-fifth (21%) of the 1999 sample shared these sentiments.

 
SECTION 7: TEXANS' PERCEPTIONS OF THE PURPOSE OF THE ADULT AND JUVENILE SYSTEMS OF JUSTICE AND SUPPORT FOR TAX INCREASES TO IMPROVE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES
The final section of this report represents an effort to determine what today's Texans think about the importance of different purposes for both the adult and juvenile justice systems.  It also presents the results of questions asked in both 1979 and 1999 concerning the public's willingness to support tax increases to improve specific criminal justice related services.  Tables 7.1 and 7.2 report the results of the questions focusing on these issues.

 
Table 7.1 
Level of Support for Different Purposes of Adult and Juvenile Justice Systems in 1999
(Question wording:  Now, when you think about the criminal justice system in general, how important do you think each of the following should be for the system that deals with adult criminals?  And What about the juvenile justice system? How important should each of the following be for the system that deals with juvenile offenders?  The order of options was randomized and the question was only asked in the 1999 survey.)
 Percent responding:
Adult
Criminal Justice
Juvenile 
Justice System
Rehabilitation  
     very important
 68
92
     somewhat important
 26
  6
     not important
  4
  1
     no response
  1
  1
Punishment  
     very important
 83
74
     somewhat important
 15
23
     not important
   1
  2
     no response 
   1
  1
Deterrence  
     very important
 69
79
     somewhat important
 25
16
     not important
  4
 5
     no response
  2
<1
Incapacitation  
     very important
 69
50
     somewhat important
 26
38
     not important
  3
10
     no response
  2
 2
Reconciliation   
     very important
 54
59
     somewhat important
 28
30
     not important
11
 6
     no response
  7
 5

 
The 1999 survey included a series of questions similar to those regarding people's perceptions about the purpose of prisons but designed to determine thier perceptions of the more general justice systems at large.  These questions were first asked with specific focus drawn toward the "justice system that deals with adult criminals" and were followed by a series of questions focusing the respondent's attention toward the "system that deals with juvenile offenders."  All of the traditional "functions" about the purpose of criminal justice were presented (rehabilitation, punishment, deterrence, and incapacitation) as well as a recently emerging "purpose" being referred to as "reconciliation" or "restorative justice" (defined in the question as "reconciling victims, offenders, and their communities."  These options were randomized to avoid any possible influence of question order on the responses.  It is also important to remember that these questions were not included in the 1979 survey so comparison of responses across time can not be made.

The figures in Table 7.1 show that today's Texans see punishment as the most important purpose, with 83% defining it as a "very important" function for the criminal justice system to consider when dealing with adult criminals.  While 74% of the respondents consider punishment to be "very important" when dealing with juvenile offenders, the respondents found rehabilitation to be far more important when dealing with juveniles.Ninety-two percent defined it as "very important" with juvenile offenders.  Texans also appear to be more supportive of deterrence and less supportive of incapacitation as important purposes for the juvenile justice system than the adult system. Over one-half of the respondents consider "reconciliation" to be "very important" functions for both the adult and juvenile systems with slightly more supporting this purpose when dealing with juveniles than adults.


 
Table 7.2 
Texans' Support for Tax Increases for Different Criminal Justice Services: 1979 and 1999
(Question wording: Would you be willing to have your taxes increased to support any of the following?)
Percent responding "yes" to:
1979
1999
     Improved police services
47
64
     Improved court system
35
63
     More judges
15
50
     More prison facilities
26
54
     Improved probation services
21
53
     Other
 4
N/A

 
There is considerably more support in 1999 than there was in 1979 for tax increases to improve and/or expand each of the different components of the criminal justice system.  While only 47% of the 1979 sample reported a willingness to support an increase in their taxes to improve police services, 64% of the 1999 sample said they would support a tax increase for this purpose. The 1999 sample was also considerably more likely than the 1979 sample to be willing to support tax increases to improve the court system and the delivery of probation services.  Today's sample was also more likely to support tax increases to hire more judges and to build more prison facilities than was the 1979 sample.